Sunday, November 18, 2007

On Lessing and Lawrence

Barbara Hall writes:

I dug up my copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover with the Doris Lessing introduction (not preface, as I originally said . . . I think I also said reissue instead of reprinting . . . too much record talk, I guess . . . btw, scholars, what's the difference between a preface and an introduction? I'm sure I used to know when I was an English major instead of an unemployed writer . . .) and I have to stump again for people to check it out.

All I can say about Lessing is that I still want to be her when I grow up. Anyone who reads her autobiography has to agree that as regards her own life, she can be more than marginally full of shit--maybe some of the most eloquent writing she's ever done is in her justification of leaving her children behind with her marriage — eloquent yes, convincing, no — but I sincerely hope I still have her clear-eyed, unsentimental point of view when I'm her age . . . which is about 88? I have always felt that she was weirdly disconnected from any point in time--The Golden Notebook transcends all those constraints, even as she writes so particularly about a specific period in history. I suppose her science fiction work illustrates her inability to be bound by the time-space continuum. She seems to me somewhat supernatural. And it's very well illustrated in the following excerpt about education:

"The other thing taught from the start is to distrust one's own judgment. Children are taught submission to authority, how to search for other people's opinions and decisions, and how to quote and comply....It may be that there is no other way of educating people. Possibly, but I don't believe it. In the meantime it would be a help at least to describe things properly, to call things by their right names. Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this:

'You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of the particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others, will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself--educating your own judgement. Those that stay must remember, always and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.'"

She just never bought in. Probably because she was the product of so many different cultures, she avoided assiduously connecting with one. She just saw stuff. And had the great ability to tell about it. She reminds me of Chrissie Hynde, who just never got the memo that women couldn't play the electric guitar and lead a band. Well, not just a band, but a great band.

Anyway, the cover art of the Penguin Classic reprint is a series of comic strips by Chester Brown which are worth the price of admission all by themselves. All these things threaten to eclipse the importance of the book itself but re-reading Lady Chatterly's Lover is another interesting experience. Some of the writing is fit-like, but much of it is still so pertinent and certainly as dirty as it ever promised to be. Love among the class structure is a subject I never tire of. My first novel (and one could argue all the subsequent ones) was about a poor person growing up in a rich place. My story, too, and I forget who said we just keep telling the same story over and over, hoping it will end differently. Anyway, the last name of my first protagonist was Collier. I didn't even know at the time that that was the what coal workers were called. Or maybe I did in that Jungian collective unconscious kind of way.

The great quote that Lessing pulled from the text to illustrate Lawrence's sense of humor, or at least irony, was this: "Ours is essentially is a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically." Does that somehow relate to the discussion of Bruce's nostalgia in "Long Walk Home"?

Lessing maintains that Lawrence still provides one of the greatest texts ever written on sexual politics, the push-pull of the male-female dynamic. As the song goes, who am I to disagree?

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